The Pasadena Police Department’s eye in the sky has gotten sharper after the agency’s helicopter was fitted last month with a new, high-tech camera, officials said.
One of the department’s five helicopters was equipped with a new Wescam USA MX-10 camera system on Dec. 8, vastly improving image resolution over the prior camera system, which had been installed in the early-2000s, according to police officials and city documents.
The response from flight crews has been overwhelmingly positive, Pasadena Police Lt. William Grisafe said.
“They love it. They absolutely love it,” said Grisafe.
“The cameras on the helicopters — and all of the Police Department’s technological advances — are used to assist in the apprehension of individuals involved in criminal activity,” he said.
“The intent is to use technology to be a better police department so we can quickly and effectively solve crime. This approach ultimately makes the city of Pasadena a safer place to live and work,” according to Grisafe.
Previously, all of the department’s airships were equipped with FLIR 8000/8500 analog IR camera systems, which were purchased and installed in the early-2000s, according to a staff report authored when funding was approved last year.
“On average, the division is spending $40,000 in annual maintenance with components for cameras that often fail due to age, corrosion, and long-term use,” the report stated. “The low definition FLIR cameras have become antiquated with the arrival of new high definition, fully digital camera systems.
The increased zoom and digital imaging capabilities provided by newer systems, like the MX-10, provides officers with the ability to see greater details at greater distances, according to the report.
“This ultimately gives law enforcement the advantage when searching for outstanding suspects, immensely adding to the safety of officers on the ground,” the report states.
“The use of IR cameras has eliminated hours and hours of resources since flight crews are able to locate suspects faster and more efficiently during perimeter searches and large containments, the report added.
“Additionally, as the new equipment will allow for flying at greater altitudes, noise-related complaints are likely to be reduced,” according to the report.
The camera system was purchased by the city for $420,000.
But not everyone was pleased with the purchase.
Pasadena Tenants Justice Coalition spokeswoman Allison Henry said she believed the funds could have been better spent on the ground.
“Eyes on the street and in the community are better than these supposed eyes in the sky,” she said.
“Two unsheltered people have died already in Pasadena,” Henry said. “The amount spent on police cameras, or even half of that, would literally save people. Why is that not important? Because they are poor or live on the street, or in the Arroyo in tents? Exactly whose public safety is being prioritized?”
Lt. Bradley May of the Pasadena Police Department’s Air Operations Section said the new camera has already resulted in arrests during at least seven recent incidents.
It helped apprehend three suspects in connection with a spate of five shootings that left three people wounded on Dec. 20, he said.
Officers also used the new camera system to track down the suspect in a series of three robberies that took place on Dec. 28, May said.
“The camera was instrumental in making those arrests,” he said.
“It’s a crime apprehension tool. It’s used solely for that purpose: crime prevention and apprehension, as well as Homeland Security checks, fire prevention with heat signatures and that sort of thing,” May said.
Sgt. Mark Mendenhall of the Air Operations Section described the tool as a “force multiplier.”
“It allows us to reduce the number of resources and officers normally required on the ground because of the capabilities of this camera,” he said.
In addition to providing law enforcement helicopter service to Pasadena, the Pasadena Police Department also participates in the Foothill Air Support Team, sharing air resources with 11 other nearby police agencies.